“Enjoy Jazz”, said the flyer event. Also the posters. It was even draped all over the building. A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm were billed tonight at the Alte Feuerwache venue in Manheim, all members of London/Berlin based label Erased Tapes – tonight celebrating their 5th anniversary. All these artists conjure up anything but jazz in their soundscapes, so thankfully this confusing situation was quickly cleared up; cleared up with a promise – A Winged Victory For The Sullen would be a little ‘jazzy’ for the audience in their opening slot, quipped pianist / composer Dustin O’Hallaran. Featuring former Stars Of The Lid member Adam Wiltzie and O’Hallaran, the band comprises of a piano, a computer, a guitar, and a trio of players in an accompanying string section. Whilst they didn’t fulfill their promise of jazz, they did fulfill expectations in the live arena. Their music is simple, haunting and elegiac – calling to mind moments from the Stars Of The Lid LP “And Their Refinement of the Decline” ´, as well as the journey of O’Halloran’s “Lumiere” album. The sound of A Winged Victory… features delicately built piano chords which become swamped with guitar sounds, backing tracks and live strings, creating a real fusion of melancholy and hope, requiring extreme patience in listening.
It is atmospheric and fragile, with no better proof than the opening track ‘We Played Some Open Chords And Rejoiced, For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Another Year’; though the closer ‘Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears’ – the high point of their album – perhaps sums them up perfectly. A slow piano rise, then a build to a sudden high rise on the strings accompanied by washes of drone guitar. Real beauty here, and a great start to the evening.
Olafur Arnalds seemed in a playful mood. He came out and explained to the packed audience he ‘didn’t know where he was’ and that he had a ‘shower in a tower’ before the show. He also regailed us with tales of abandoning sleep in favour of drinking on Polish roads (‘they are not meant for sleeping’) before playing the track ‘Poland’, and certainly could not be criticized for not engaging his audience. Not that he needs all this chat, as the music he creates – 10 releases so far for this prodigiously talented 20-something Icelander – is full of wonder should you decide to delve.
Arnalds draws from a similar musical vein tapped into by A Winged Victory… however, his approach is more layered and he needs less time to deliver – most songs close at the 4 to 5 minute mark. Incorparating a piano, a backing computer, and also a string section (just two players this evening, though he does occasionally play with four), Arnalds can play the slow burning, piano/ cello simple melody, found in the track ‘Kjurrt’, though he can also use drum beats and percussion as a backing track to bring a more rounded edge to the music, such as in the track ‘Near Light’ on his latest release ‘Living Room Song.
The music can be morose occasionally, but more often than not the simple piano lines accompanied by strings build towards authentic moments of hopeful melody and heart-warming beauty. His recording of the audience on the intro, and immediately using the sample in the opening track only further proves how important it is for Olafur Arnalds to solidify that artist/audience relationship, which is all too often overlooked these days.
Nils Frahm was headlining – if he opened proceedings this evening, all the pianos would be detuned and unusable for live performance. His words. Interesting news after the serenity of the first two bands – were we about to have a rock god unleashed on us? Guitars slung to the floor unceremoniously, pianos kicked and beaten? Not quite. Though, as an introduction, he did pick up some sticks and beat the piano pretty hard for a few minutes. This then gave way to a song that took its time to build single notes on the piano, before adding a few more. This strange and unconventional start proved to be a false dawn, as Nils invited people to some empty seats in the front row. He sat at the piano, breathed out, and began playing an epic, piano-led masterpiece with some incredible fingerwork. Around 10 minutes into this, cellist Anne Müller joined and played along with the swirling, beautiful melodies drifting from the keys.
It was as extremely moving as it was beautiful, and was an evening highlight. Later in the set, he sat with his back to the audience and played two pianos simmaltanously, again building a real power and intensity to his playing. Interspersed with a song that would not sound out of place on Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with computerized synth sounds drowning in increasing reverb, Nils Frahm in an artist who is difficult to place, but not difficult to appreciate.
When all members of each and every band that played this evening took to the stage, most thought it would be for a final bow, thanking the audience for attending this label night anniversary. However, each member of the band began playing in a huge collaboration on stage. Sadly just for one song, but by this stage Manheim was absolutely won over. Erased Tapes label boss Robert Raths label slogan is ‘At The End Of All Music, Happiness Will Be Erased’. No better testament to that after the events of this evening.
Photos: Diana Matthess